Karl’s presentation started out well. He had no problem responding convincingly to the handful of questions the Americans asked. Every now and then his American listeners nodded (seemingly) in approval, commenting: “very comprehensive”, “data-rich slides”, “serious theory”, “well, that’s certainly crystal clear.”
Halfway into his presentation, though, Karl had noticed something about their body language. The Americans seemed a bit fidgety, uneasy. A few had glanced at their watches. Several held their smartphones under the table. Were they texting to each other? Were they even paying attention?
Questions were asked about substance he had already addressed. Some slides he had to explain two or three times. And they repeatedly interrupted his presentation with their questions instead of demonstrating a minimum of courtesy and patience by holding them for the Q&A part.
When they did get to Q&A, however, Karl felt rather confident about his presentation. The American asked very few questions. None of them posed a problem for him. For Karl and his colleagues these were clear signals that all had gone quite well.
The Americans saw things much differently. Karl came across as pedantic, long-winded, condescending. Much of what he presented confirmed their opinions about German engineering: overly complex, too expensive, not customer-driven. They feared that the German side would not be open to their engineering solutions, to their fundamental approach to engineering.
The group broke for dinner. Again separately. The tension had not subsided. The Germans thought the Americans looked a bit depressed. They spoke very quietly, avoided eye contact with their German colleagues, kept their heads down.
The Americans, including Roger, were not sure what the Germans were thinking, much less how to interact with them. They were very guarded around them. At the forefront of their mind was the reality that their company had been acquired, that the Germans were their new bosses.
Karl noticed that his presentation was not going well. What went wrong?